TAMPA – Concerted efforts by local clothing police to choreograph color schemes for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final here Wednesday night were abundantly successful. Only a few dabs of red were visible midst an ocean of blue within Amalie Arena.
However, a similar plan to chloroform the young men on skates who have helped make that distinctive hockey sweater a best-selling international brand did not quite materialize. Almost, but not quite.
With the Tampa Bay Lightning deploying what Head Coach Joel Quenneville politely tabbed a “prevent defense,” his Blackhawks overturned a one-goal deficit that lasted about two hours by scoring two goals in 1:58 of the third period for a 2-1 triumph.
Such a bash, loud and celebratory, these fine folks were savoring. So cruel and insensitive, these Blackhawks are, for brazenly destroying another gala.
For so much of this evening, an evening when it stood to reason that second and third chances might be antidotes versus 6-foot-7 Ben Bishop, the problem was manufacturing first chances as the Lightning gradually cut the ice in pie-shaped sections, a la Muhammad Ali’s rope-a-dope of yore.
The Blackhawks started slowly while Tampa Bay’s shorts were on fire, so perhaps Alex Killorn’s back-to-the-net deflection in the fifth minute convinced the Lightning that one would be enough. Unfortunately for them, Corey Crawford thought likewise, and don’t even think of stopping me if you’ve read this before.
Whereas Bishop was The Man coming in off a 2-0 Eastern Conference Final clincher at Madison Square Garden, his second Game 7 whitewash this postseason, it was Crawford who held the Blackhawks in the game. Only moments after he halted an untrammeled Ryan Callahan on a breakaway, and a while after the Rodney Dangerfield of NHL masked men foiled sniper Steven Stamkos by trundling out well beyond the blue paint, his teammates found a way to make Crawford a winner.
First, Teuvo Teravainen scored after Duncan Keith and Andrew Shaw handled the puck adeptly while Marcus Kruger screened. John Cooper, Tampa’s coach, labeled it a “seeing eye single.” But on a roster with an experienced core, the baby-faced assassin who can’t grow a beard is piling up home runs.
“He’s so calm, he’s Finnish cold,” gushed Marian Hossa. Indeed, Teravainen exudes comfort and poise in any circumstance, excluding postgame demands that entail talking about himself to the media. He’ll get used to it. He’ll have to.
Teravainen also had to discuss the second goal, because upon a failed clearing attempt by Tampa Bay, he nudged the puck to Antoine Vermette, who picked the corner with a silencer at 15:26. The Lightning, hockey’s highest-scoring team for six months, could not flip the switch and attack as shock settled in throughout a building where, oddly enough, they are merely 5-6 in these playoffs.
Bryan Bickell, who barely played in Game 7 at Anaheim Saturday night, was an unhealthy scratch. The nature of his injury was not disclosed. Kris Versteeg, whose wife Brittany gave birth to the couple’s first child – Jaxson James – the other day, replaced Bickell after a whirlwind travel schedule to and from Canada.
Otherwise, the lineup that was present for the Western Conference Final victory in Anaheim Saturday night remained intact, even if the jump in the Blackhawks’ step was wanting. You could say the guests were fortunate to trail only 1-0. Or you could say that they are delighted to have Crawford on their side.
Before the Lightning dismissed three other members of the Original Six – Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadians, New York Rangers – Amalie Arena was booked for a Garth Brooks concert Saturday night. But that slot has been turned over to Game 2 of the Final, and Brooks, whose last local appearance was in 1998, will have to sing another day.
Now, as you’ve no doubt heard, Lightning management attempted restricting ticket sales to Florida residents. In general, there’s an Original Six problem here. Specifically, now it’s the Blackhawks and their mobile fans. During this era of enlightenment, the team draws better on the road than it used to draw at home.
Men, women and children in red overran this building for a February regular-season game, but now if you are seen in a visiting jersey, it is tantamount to a wardrobe malfunction. Tony Esposito, the Blackhawks’ Hall of Fame ambassador, wore a Blackhawks belt buckle Wednesday night. Much beloved here as a founding father of the Lightning, Tony O got a pass.
Actually, only a thousand or so seats are subject to the dress code, primarily enforced at a private club that displays the rules clearly outside the door. This is commonplace at many establishments in and outside sports. Why, there was even a notice about proper apparel shown during the Western Conference Final beside the Honda Center press box.
All writers were instructed to appear in acceptable garments, or else. This is tantamount to telling zoo animals to eat with proper utensils, but your humble historian obeyed respectfully and bought several new outfits. It hurt, but that’s why you keep $20 in your wallet for an emergency.